Facebook’s rebranding to ‘Meta’ on October 28th, 2021, signalled its intentions to become a leader in the ‘metaverse economy.’ This has stimulated an explosion of interest in how massive planned investments in metaverse development by tech titans and the wider business community could impact society and business. Meta alone spent over US$10 billion in 2021 on metaverse activities. We are now witnessing multiple weekly announcements of the metaverse entry plans of global brands such as Adidas, BMW, and Disney.
In this article I explore how the rise of metaverses might impact business, work, workplaces, IT, tomorrow’s jobs, recruitment, onboarding, and leadership.
What is a Metaverse?
Metaverse is a catch all term encompassing the growing number of virtual 2D and 3D gaming and experience environments like Fortnite and Decentraland. In these environments, businesses can talk to clients, host internal meetings and workshops, run conferences and events, share ideas with colleagues, market ourselves, sell virtual and physical products, and recruit and onboard staff. Socially, we can play games, meet friends and family, buy land, build properties, develop experiences for others, and create metaverse outfits, art, and objects. In many cases these are accessed using increasingly multi-sensory virtual and augmented reality interfaces—but they are not essential prerequisites for metaverse participation.
Globally, with over three billion video gamers and several million playing online, there is already huge participation in virtual worlds and a growing market worth tens of billions of dollars. In August 2021, Ariana Grande’s concert in Fortnite’s Rift Tour attracted around 78 million viewers. A rapidly growing number of individuals are earning a living in metaverses—designing corporate presences, creating ‘skins’ (outfits and visual personas), building properties, and developing experiences for other participants in these virtual worlds.
The Emerging Business Opportunity
The opportunities and benefits of involvement are starting to emerge, but already a growing number of global brands have announced metaverse plans or are rumoured to be about to explore what such a virtual world presence might do for them. Whilst specialist skills are required at present to create something in a metaverse, over time, ever more user friendly toolsets will emerge for developing a presence. This will make it much easier for even the smallest of enterprises to have some form of presence in one or more of these virtual worlds as a next evolution of their current web and social activities. From a financial perspective, the rapidly rising cost of land in many metaverses could see some businesses and financial institutions acquiring virtual real estate purely as an opportunity for capital appreciation in much the same way as they do with physical world assets.
Metaverses in 2022
Our estimates are that, with accelerating interest and adoption rates, catalysed by Facebook’s Meta strategy,10-20% of the Fortune 500 and Financial Times Global 500 indices of leading companies will have some sort of presence in one or more metaverses. Initially, this might just be a virtual world rendering of some elements from their existing websites. We can expect to see all of the major tech players creating a mix of consumer and business facing metaverses—for example, Microsoft’s Mesh already serves the corporate market. The competitive landscape will split between 1) natively decentralised and crypto based metaverses developed largely by new entrants, and 2) the more centralised platforms created by the large tech players and existing online gaming titans.
A range of global consumer brands will look to establish a presence for marketing, sales, and customer experiences. Skills in developing a metaverse presence will be in high demand. Crypto ventures and some physical world entities will start to establish multi-language regional and even global corporate headquarters in different metaverses. This will create challenges and territorial control disputes for national regulatory and tax authorities around the world.
Because of the large number of existing players, virtual gaming is likely to remain the largest single use case in 2022—with an increasing focus on play to earn, create to earn, and build to earn models of metaverse participation. Other key applications will include corporate event spaces and product showcases; marketing platforms; retail and commercial sales and service centres; immersive customer experiences; and live global sporting events, concerts, and artistic performances.
Metaverses will also provide spaces for social activity and for friends and families to meet; educational facilities for global courses and learning experiences; and influencer spaces for those with large followings to connect with their fans. Designers and architects will be able to provide virtual rendering of real world projects and proposals such as homes, office buildings, theme parks, airports, and shopping centres. A range of social media applications will start to use metaverses as a primary interface with and between individuals in their user base.
Many of the fastest growing occupations in 2022 will be metaverse related activities e.g. development a presence for new ventures, existing corporates, and governments. Other key opportunities could include skin designers, play to earn contractors, virtual landscapers, building designers / developers, and the staff for corporate metaverse presences. An increasing number of physical world jobs in social media, marketing, product development, service, digital, and technology will have a metaverse element to them.
The boundaries between metaverses and Non Fungible Tokens (NFTs) will start to blur as digital content is taken into these virtual worlds. We will see the growth of NFTs with everyday functionality. Examples might include incorporating all of the information related to a property, educational qualifications, and certificates of authenticity for art and gemstones. Potential asset buyers will be able to touch and feel the items and view the certificates of authenticity within a multi-sensory metaverse environment.
A wide range of metaverse based NFTs will be launched by leading sporting teams, top individual performers, high profile individuals, musicians, artists, media outlets, publications, film studios etc. These will capture both historic images and activity scenes through to user selected moments in the match or performance they are watching. NFTs will become more multifunctional and interactive—for example enabling owners to link NFTs together, overlay costumes on NFT characters, and update the content—e.g. always showing the latest outfit from a sports team. Users will increasingly show off their NFT collectibles in virtual display spaces. Museums, art galleries, and auctioneers will display their entire collection in 3D and conduct virtual global auctions.
The Longer Term Future
While multiple metaverses already exist such as Minecraft and Sandbox, connectivity is an issue. An emerging priority is connecting them so people and assets can move seamlessly between metaverses—enabling brands to create a consistent presence and experience across all these virtual worlds. Many believe that once we can do that, we will create a platform far bigger in value than social media. One view is that metaverses could also become more important as a channel for business than the internet because of the greater potential for direct interaction with prospective and existing customers.
Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) will also see roles being played by Ais. Within a few years AI could be building new metaverses and creating activities within them. In the world’s of virtual and augmented reality (VR / AR) we are already moving towards multisensory experiences. These will naturally move into metaverse environments. When this happens, a variety of body worn and device based sensors and activators will allows us to give grandma an 80th birthday hug, taste her cake, and smell the flowers you sent her—even though she is on the other side of the world. Hotels will be able to show you the specific room you might stay in, test the bed, feel the linen, and sample the food in the restaurant. The possibilities are endless.
Metaverse Work and Workplaces
Widespread metaverse usage could impact how organisations operate in future. Many are already using metaverses for meetings—where people can be present together in virtual spaces or rooms, rather than using 2D on-screen video conferencing. Platforms like Microsoft’s ‘Mesh for Teams’ are making 3D metaverses seamlessly accessible for businesses. Meeting participants can move freely between people and groups, collaborate, participate in workshops, have side conversations, and learn together as if in a physical space.
Dialogues can be richer when we can see body language, stand around a whiteboard, and participate in customer experiences. Conversations with customers around the world can become richer experiences and colleagues can be brought into those discussions more easily. Employees can visit an office workplace, factory floor, or building site and get a complete view of everything as though physically present. Working days can become more productive as we can move from meeting to meeting and location to location without worrying if customers can use the same video conferencing platform as us.
How we do business could change in creative ways. Brands can create virtual showrooms for physical and virtual world objects—ranging from clothing and houses to vehicles and equipment. Customers can ‘try on’ outfits, view furniture in mock-ups of their office, and sample a theme park experience before booking. Architects and designers can display proposals to clients in 3D while demonstrating their operation—showing how people might move through a shopping centre, airport, or stadium. The more multi-sensory the offering becomes, the richer the experience.
Moving between metaverses and instant translation could enhance communications and relationships. For example, a Korean firm operating in a native language metaverse could interact, transact, and have employees ‘visit’ clients in a metaverse preferred by Spanish speaking businesses.
In the metaverse, we can choose our visual appearance and be a different character every day—from a giraffe today to a mermaid tomorrow—some firms may frown on this. People are already earning money in metaverses, and this is likely to grow. As a lot of metaverse transactions are conducted—and wages paid—in cryptocurrencies, there is potential for people to become very rich.
An obvious concern is that we may never meet our colleagues and customers physically—which may not be acceptable in some cultures. Some worry that we may also gradually lose some of our ability to interact in real world social settings – although others argue that this has been happening for decades since the launch of the internet. Employers might worry that employees are working for multiple organisations in parallel. Brand image could be damaged if our metaverse presence is inferior in design and experience when compared to competitors. Those individuals who are uncomfortable or less technologically capable in such environments may find themselves feeling isolated, left behind, or excluded from activities.
Implications for IT
One of the big challenges for organisations will be where to locate their metaverse activity. The technology competencies required to build and develop metaverses, or a presence within them, and connect to existing sales and service systems might suggest that IT is the ideal location for such activities. However, others might feel that the creative and experiential element of a metaverse presence might make marketing or dedicated digital teams a far more appropriate home. In either case, the complex range of core technologies will require IT support. Perhaps more importantly, the demands on IT infrastructure, bandwidth, and processing capability could expand exponentially—placing very high performance and availability demands on the IT function. Wherever the capability is located, a wide range of new skills and ways of thinking will be required to develop and continually update a corporate metaverse presence.
A range of new jobs are already emerging or on the near horizon—such as virtual assistants for online banks, retailers, showrooms, realtors, travel agents, and leisure activities. Others coming through include designing, constructing, and decorating virtual buildings and workspaces, and creating virtual meetings, events, and training experiences. As firms move online there will be roles for designers of metaverse business models and organisation structures. There will also be roles for developers and maintainers of metaverses, ‘in-verse’ content creation tools, and virtual world cyber security solutions.
Metaverses, Recruitment, and Onboarding
In a world where employees increasingly work remotely, we need creative ways of finding and integrating new staff. Virtual metaverse environments would let us see how candidates from around the world perform in interviews, group activities, and problem solving tasks. Once recruited, onboarding new staff becomes easier as new staff can meet colleagues, experience the culture, network, request assistance, chat informally, and form relationships faster than with on-screen video conferencing.
Virtual World Leadership
The shift to virtual working has already seen leaders having to adapt how they support, guide, and motivate staff. Metaverses take this a step further and leaders will increasingly need to work out how to operate in these environments—learning from staff—often more junior—who are already more familiar with them through online gaming and other experiences. Leaders will also need to resist the temptation to ask staff to be visible at all times and get comfortable with allowing them to express their creativity in how they present themselves visually.
We are at a very early stage in metaverse adoption by business, but this is likely to accelerate, and the challenge is to bring an open minded approach to learn about metaverses and how they could add value to our operations and customer relationships.
Reference: Rohit Talwar